Recommended systems

3XS Audio Workstation - EZ490

EZ490

Our entry level Intel system offers great low latency performance in a value-orientated package. Ideal for home recording and mixing, a perfect solution for anyone working on their own material and wishing to record and process their audio in real-time.

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3XS Audio Workstation - PX470

PX470

Another value solution for user doing equal amounts of recording and composition within the system. Trading off a little low latency performance for more power whilst mixing at higher buffer rates makes this a flexible solution.

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3XS Audio Workstation - TZ490

TZ490

Our most popular Intel system for this scenario, offering similar low latency performance to its smaller sibling only with extra cores giving us more power and performance overall. A great all-rounder with plenty of expandability making it suited to working on larger group projects and sessions.

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System guide for live recording of artists and bands.

In this guide, we will be looking over the needs of users working with the recording and processing of live sound. Low latency recording, processing and monitoring of the audio is one of the most demanding scenarios we can ask of a system, meaning the choices we make will keep this as a focus.

For anyone playing and processing audio through a system in real-time, having a quick responsive setup is the goal. We use around 10ms as a guideline for most performers as the time taken between playing and hearing the result through monitoring before and latency becomes audible, although more timing sensitive users may prefer to take this even lower.

A common example would be guitar recording and processing the sounds in real-time using computer based VST effects. The sound has to travel into the system through the conversion stage where the first delay occurs, into the CPU through the audio interface ASIO buffer giving us a second delay and then back out to the speakers through a final conversion process and delay. This means that choosing an interface with a good signal path and conversion stage will take you on the first step to great performance, but then the rest of this will come down to the rest of your system. Here we will look to demystify what’s happening in the background and help explain what you need to know about your system to capture the perfect recording.

Processor

Where with other types of audio work we tend to focus on the overall available performance, when recording and processing live audio we have other factors to keep in mind. Common advice from many software firms has always been to focus on single core performance, over generally slower higher core count setups and sound recording is the scenario where this rings the truest.

When recording through the audio interface the interface driver captures the incoming audio within the ASIO buffer time frame that you set and then passes it to the CPU for the processing to be carried out at regular intervals. You can raise this setting to increase the overall performance, but also raise the monitoring latency you hear or more crucially to our needs you can also lower it to achieve less latency but this will put an increased load on the processor overall.

Tracks within a sequencer will tend to keep entire channels along with their processing chains on the same core when handling the information. Working this way is more efficient than splitting the load and then recombining it again, so you will tend to find that a core with a faster clock speed will allow you to do more at the very lowest ASIO settings before overload dropouts start to occur.

However, not all ASIO buffers are equal and a 64 buffer on one interface may offer you better latency than a 64 or even a 128 buffer on another model. Where the processer comes in here, is that depending on the driver efficiency, some interfaces may handle X amount of plugins on a 64 buffer and another may manage Y amount at the same buffer setting.

A faster single core will allow more work to be done at low latencies within a single channel. In an ideal world, we would look for the fastest single core performance, but ideally with as many cores reaching that speed on the chip as possible. CPU’s will often have a single core turbo rating, as well as a lower “all core” target speed and it’s this lower figure that guides us to how well the chip will handle our workloads once we put the system to use.

With sound being captured from outside of the computer we find ourselves largely working with audio tracks when mixing. Whilst it is common for extra effects and soft-synth instrumentation to be added to the track later in the recording process, handling just the recorded audio itself whilst mixing is relatively undemanding when compared to trying to generate a full orchestras worth of sounds within the system.

This means that for many live recordists, the midrange CPU’s that focus on lower core counts and higher clock speeds can often prove to be a better fit than many of the higher-end setups with more cores and lower base clocks. Even a modest CPU like the Intel 10700K or AMD 3700X being able to handle a sizable number of plug-ins, whilst offering fast responsive solutions for solo projects or smaller group recordings.

Storage

Our systems feature a small M.2. drive for the Windows OS and your applications. These super-fast drives allow for a snappy and responsive system with quick load-times. Systems will often offer a second M.2. option, which we tend to recommend for handling large sound libraries or doing video editing in multi-media projects. For general sound recording and editing, you may favour having more space overall for capturing your projects and large SSD’s can often prove more cost efficient in comparison to a large M.2. drive, whilst still offering enough performance to capture or stream hundreds of audio tracks.

We also offer a larger mechanical drives in most of our systems as a backup and archival drive, although this is optional, as we understand that many users will choose to migrate older drives over to any new machine. To allow for this we always aim to ensure plenty of expansion capabilities where possible, although do contact us for details should you have any specific requirements for your build.

Case and cooling

Our systems focus heavily around the Fractal and be quiet! case models. Both ranges have great acoustic design and their own strengths. The Fractal cases often feature heavier, denser panels with thick sound treatment and some low noise, although averaging in performance stock fans. The be quiet cases we offer tend to have less physical treatment, although the trade-off is they include the great performing be quiet fan range as default and due to that they offer great value and performance. Our recommendation to anyone looking for the very best low-noise, high-performance combination is to match the Fractal case with the be quiet! fan upgrade in order to attain the best of both worlds.

We also often work with be quiet! coolers and PSU’s, where they use the same great low noise fans across the range of supporting products, helping us to ensure a low noise floor in your studio. We also offer the ever popular and higher performing Nocuta’s as an additional upgrade choice, although with higher top speeds these will run slightly louder, they do offer increased air flow for anyone looking to further cool a system full of add-in cards.

Graphic Card

Intel’s popular Z490 platform features in built graphics that perform superbly for audio applications. With many boards offering two display outputs many users, find that this is perfectly adequate for running their studio screen arrangement although upgrade options are available.

The X299 platform and AMD’s solutions do not currently feature on-board graphics and will need a suitable graphics solution adding. When choosing our card options keeping a low noise footprint remains important and we always look to use cards with the “0db” or “3d active” feature set, where the fan may spin down or totally switch off entirely under light workloads. This helps us ensure it remains uninstructive whilst you are recording or mixing.

Networking

All of our systems feature Ethernet connections as standard, with many boards offering Wi-Fi as an optional add on. Wi-Fi has a history of being disruptive in audio systems and we offer a number of pre-validated options that have proven to be trouble free in our testing environment. Whilst there are a number of options, each price point offers newer and faster supported Wi-Fi standards. If you are unsure of the best card to pick, we advise checking to see the maximum speed your router supports and aiming to match or exceed it with your choice of Wi-Fi adaptor.

Thunderbolt

As Thunderbolt continues grow in popularity with PC users, some of the earliest adopters of the standard have been studios looking to leverage its great low latency performance. At this time, we find that the market for Thunderbolt has largely focused on higher I/O count interfaces, making them attractive to many users doing live recording.

This plays to the strengths of the standard as its high-speed connection to the rest of the system when matched with well-written drivers, can achieve superb latency whilst offering plenty of bandwidth. With interfaces often featuring a high number of I/O connections, we are seeing some superb options appear for anyone wishing to record larger groups and bands. High performing RME models and the additional processing capabilities offered by the UAD Apollo range continue to remain popular; they are also starting to be joined by more value-orientated packages that still manage to offer a tremendous amount of features and performance such as the Presonus Quantum range.

As the technology progresses and a wider selection of interfaces continue to become available, the appeal of Thunderbolt will continue to grow for anyone recording music. With this in mind mainboards need to have Thunderbolt support included within the BIOS as well as at a physical level using a dedicated header for any future expansion. Where possible we aim to include this support with our systems, although this may not apply to every model and please do contact us for more information where required.